“Variable remuneration favors the transition from exploitation to self-exploitation”

Tribune. A silent revolution in remuneration methods is taking place in the world of work. It is indicative of the advent of a “new spirit of wage labor”, valuing the autonomy of the employee. But make no mistake: this autonomy is not granted, but required of employees, and it serves the performance of the company. It is actually a new form of workforce mobilization, promoting in its speech the advent of an autonomous and responsible worker. In this, it constitutes the central center of diffusion of individualistic and meritocratic values ​​which irrigate the whole of the company.

While the remuneration of CAC 40 executives started to rise again in 2021, the APEC (Association for the employment of executives) stresses that the health crisis should, on the other hand, be accompanied by a decrease in the remuneration of executives of the private sector, in particular that of commercial executives and large companies. The drop in the variable part of their remuneration, linked to their results or to the performance of the company, explains this trend in particular. It testifies to a rise in uncertainty at the very heart of stable wage employment, and which does not only affect executives. Because since the 2000s, remuneration methods have become more complex and diversified far beyond the traditional fixed monthly salary. More than 80% of employees today receive bonuses and salary supplements linked to the company’s results, or to their individual or collective “performance”.

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Managers, in very diverse sectors of activity, use variable remuneration as a tool for mobilizing employees. By enjoining them to “make their salary”, it is a question of making them responsible to obtain their involvement by giving them the feeling that they are not part of a bond of subordination vis-à-vis the employer, but that they work for their own account, as self-employed. Variable bonuses are justified on the ground that they make it possible to establish inequalities between employees which they may consider “fair”, since they are linked to their individual “merit”.

Meritocratic ideology

Three forms of variable compensation – profit sharing, target bonuses, commissions on sales – make it possible to identify three emerging salary figures: the “associate” employee, the “deserving” employee, the “quasi-independent” employee . The advantage of such an approach is to show a diversity of professional worlds while bringing out the transversal dynamic which links them to the same trend. Despite their specificities, these methods of remuneration indeed promote “autonomy” making employees responsible for their remuneration while convincing them that their salary is commensurate with their work and their efforts.

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